The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – The unkillable monster
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Introduction
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Carnivals and the counter culture
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Good versus evil
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Hardcore wrestling and the slasher film
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Monstrous bodies and body horror
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – The unkillable monster
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – A Word On The Devil
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – The Covid era and cinematic wrestling
- The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Conclusion
The unkillable monster
In the horror genre there are a series of characters who are considered franchise players, big box office draws who have therefore become unkillable. Their demise would see the end of the franchise. As a result, no matter how hard the hero(s) fight back and overcome their nefarious intentions, these evildoers always pop right back up at the story’s conclusion to kill another day.
There are many such monsters in horror – Michael Myers, Chucky, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, Mick Taylor from Wolf Creek, the Alien xenomorphs, the Predators, to name a few. No matter how many times these killers appear to meet their demise, they invariably rise from death’s door to terrorise us again.
It is no surprise to discover that there are similar unkillable monsters in pro wrestling. Two in particular have stood out. One for proving an immovable force over a thirty-year time span. The other is a creative genius who has yet to find a niche in the squared circle, but nevertheless appears to have the gift of repeatedly reinventing himself to gather widespread support from the wrestling audience.
The first of these characters is the legendary Undertaker, also known as the Dead Man or the Phenom. A performer with an aura so vast that his persona transcends wrestling and crosses over into mainstream appeal.
Apart from developing into a hugely skilled performer within the ropes for a lengthy period during his prime years, the Undertaker also had the capacity to get his character completely over outside of the ring. So much so that at least two generations of wrestling fans hung off his every word. He also demonstrated a great ability to re-invent himself, by tweaking the character every few years to fit in with the generation and storylines of different wrestling eras. Undertaker went from being a Wild West mortuary dweller, to the Phantom of the Opera, to the Satanic cult leader of his own Ministry of Darkness, to an American Badass bikie, and finally back to the original Dead Man.
It barely mattered whether the character was presented as a face or heel, the audience loved him regardless. A large part of his legacy was built on the back of the Dead Man’s unbeaten Wrestlemania streak, which lasted 20 matches over 20 years at the WWE’s stellar annual showcase, until it came to a shocking end at Wrestlemania 30 at the hands of Brock Lesnar. By this stage however, in 2014, it became noticeable even to the casual observer that the man’s physical capabilities were on the wane. As discussed further below, the Dead Man had his final great match in a cinematic setting, in the boneyard with A.J. Styles at Wrestlemania 36 in 2020. By this time his legendary status was confirmed, and he had earned the right to ride off into the sunset, which he duly did on his customised Harley Davidson motorcycle. That he did so as a multi-millionaire is both testament to his abilities, and the financial power of the WWE, his home since he first donned the black cape and hat thirty years earlier.
When the Undertaker made his first appearance at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in November 1990, the then WWF still had a family and child friendly product. Needless to say, the audience was somewhat taken aback by this giant, pale, corpse like figure all clad in black, hailing from Death Valley. He was soon joined by his iconic manager and spokesperson, Paul Bearer, who seemed to control Taker’s moves by directing him with an urn he carried to the ring. Gradually the character evolved from a slow laborious, zombie like pace into a phenomenal athlete for a big man standing not too far under seven feet tall. It was for his athleticism as well as his persona that fans came to love the Phenom. He spoke few words, but when he did, they came out in a deep dry rasp always concluded by the admonition to his next opponent to “rest in peace.”
By continually tweaking his character, and playing off a number of worthwhile long-term associates and adversaries like Bearer, storyline brother Kane, and the sadistic Mankind/Mick Foley, the Undertaker enjoyed a thirty-year ride on or near the top of the card. On this peripatetic journey he thrilled the fans with plenty of horror schtick. Graveyard matches, casket matches, buried alive matches. He was killed off several times and returned from the other side even stronger each time, like a true horror icon.
Naturally though, given his high-flying style between the ropes, as time rolled on, age began to take its toll on the Dead Man, and his performances in the later years of his career presented a series of diminishing returns. It seems he was only human after all. Gone but never forgotten, a true wrestling franchise.
The other wrestling monster deserving of special attention is still relatively young, and perhaps yet to reach his peak as a performer. Windham Rotunda, or Bray Wyatt/The Fiend, was shockingly released by the WWE half way through 2021, an organisation for which he had made truckloads of money in merchandise sales, and was a multiple time world champion.
At the time of writing, Rotunda is in the process of re-inventing himself yet again, via a series of vignettes teased on Youtube. His legion of fans is curious as to whether the bizarre, horror inspired clips are leading to a return to the wrestling ring in another company, or even to a forthcoming horror movie or television series – or both. Rotunda is a man who is clearly a huge fan of the horror genre, and he has worked to bring this element into each of his wrestling creations.
Bray Wyatt first surfaced in WWE via its NXT branded training circuit as a creepy southern cult leader. This character was based on a less successful version of a decade earlier, Waylon Mercy, which in turn was based on the Max Cady character from Cape Fear. Wyatt would make long cryptic speeches about the downfall of society, punctuated by Manson-esque laughter, always filmed in a creepy rural setting out in the woods somewhere. He surrounded himself with a trio of monstrous acolytes, two of whom always wore plastic sheep masks over their faces.
The Wyatt family took off in a huge way on the main roster, and fans bought into Wyatt’s backwoods narrative and his strange tales about a log cabin in the woods, and a mysterious figure called Sister Abigail, who supposedly raised him as an abandoned child, and may well have been a witch.
Unfortunately, whenever it came time for the WWE to truly pass the torch to Wyatt, and let him take the next step up the ladder toward legendary status, the powers that be (owner Vince McMahon), seemed to hesitate. Wyatt would always lose the major match or feud that would mark him as a serious player in the organisation, and as time passed the fans grew sick of Wyatt talking a big game and always coming up short. They began to lose faith in the character, because he always lost when it mattered. The fans were particularly annoyed that the obvious passing of the proverbial torch between the Undertaker and Bray Wyatt never occurred. Instead, the Dead Man buried the cult leader, much like John Cena and Randy Orton did.
It got to a stage where Wyatt was removed or removed himself from television for many months, to re-write his own narrative. When he finally resurfaced as a new persona, or indeed, two new personas, just like that he was over again, back on top of the world. He was still called Bray Wyatt, but now he was a twisted children’s television host, a sort of Twilight Zone Mr Rogers, with his own show set in a log cabin tricked out with toys and puppets. Once again, he would weave his dark magic through his words.
Then Bray took it a step further by introducing the fans to a dark alter ego, a tricked out carnival freak in a hideous mask called The Fiend. Wyatt displayed obvious signs of dissociative identity disorder. He insisted (pretended) that the Fiend was a separate entity. In wrestling parlance, he did this with a nod and a wink. The audience is in on the joke. In the horror field, this reflects back on the Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy. Neither realises the other exists, nor that they are one and the same person. This trope is evident in several horror themed texts. William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel (1978) for example, where gumshoe Harry Angel does not realise until it is too late that the quarry he seeks, Johnny Favourite, is in fact himself, and the Devil is playing a cruel trick on him.
As discussed earlier, the Fiend would arrive unannounced, as the lights suddenly dimmed, his presence preceded by a trumpet blast, signifying the opening of the gates of Hell. He would appear gurning in the ring behind his chosen victim, before quickly dispatching them with either the mandible claw choke or his patented finisher, the Sister Abigail. The hideous mask sported by the character was designed by horror special effects legend Tom Savini.
Perhaps in lesser hands, the Fiend character would come across as comical, but Rotunda had the chops to pull it off. Fans loved The Fiend, and almost rioted when he lost his very first title match. Learning their lesson, the WWE quickly righted this perceived wrong and put the world title on Wyatt/The Fiend. Once again, his merchandise flew off the shelves, and Rotunda was given some creative licence to push the character in a certain direction. There were specialty matches, held in swamps or houses of horror, but there were always pushbacks.
For reasons which will no doubt be revealed in time, some questionable character decisions were made for the Fiend. He began to lose matches to wrestlers he should not have lost to. Rumours abound that McMahon was never a fan of Rotunda’s somewhat amorphous physique. A fact the wrestler himself often hinted at, even creating his own Mr McMahon puppet to send the boss up. It has also been suggested that McMahon hated Rotunda’s creativity. It is said the boss prefers to have complete control of the narrative for everyone under his employ. It is likely that the sociopathic McMahon and the free spirited fun and horror loving Rotunda butted heads. So it was that after a dismal downturn in the Fiend storyline, and a devastating, unnecessary and character killing loss at the most recent Wrestlemania, the Fiend was let go. Where Rotunda will re-surface next is open to conjecture.
- About the Author
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Anthony Ferguson is an author and editor living in Perth, Australia. He has published over seventy short stories and non-fiction articles in Australia, Britain and the United States. He wrote the novel Protégé, the non-fiction books, The Sex Doll: A History, and Murder Down Under, edited the short-story collection Devil Dolls and Duplicates in Australian Horror and coedited the award-nominated Midnight Echo #12. He is a committee member of the Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA), and a submissions editor for Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (ASM). He won the Australian Shadows Award for Short Fiction in 2020.